I've always shared a special bond with my maternal grandmother, affectionately known to me as "Nanny". I'm one of eight grandchildren and numerous step-grandchildren, and it would be incorrect to say I was her "favourite". Nanny never played favourites. She loved us all, with all her heart. But I've always been "Nanny's girl".
In many ways I was closer with my grandmother than my own mother growing up, and I think its safe to say Nanny also felt the same way. Its not that she loved me more. That simply isn't possible. But Nanny and I just always understood one another in a way that I think very few people understood us.
As a child, my mother was single, and I spent almost every weekend, school holiday, and sick day at Nanny's apartment. We'd play games she made out of cardboard and old buttons, draw funny pictures with the pens she kept beside the telephone, and watch "The Young and Restless" together. At night time we'd crawl in bed together and Nanny would make up bedtime stories and after I was all giggles with her tales, she would soothe me to sleep by tracing patterns across my face with her index finger.
As an adolescent, I went to Nanny's most days after school and continued to spend many weekends with her. We would sit and talk for hours. I would share with sharing her my innermost thoughts and Nanny would validate my feelings with tales of her own youth and struggles. And of course, we still watched "The Young and the Restless" together.
As a teenager, I would drive to my Nanny's apartment after spending an evening with my girlfriends, to find her sitting in her chair, in her dressing gown, with a bed made up for me on the couch. I would scold her for waiting up for me and she would offer me tea and insist that I "eat something" before I went to sleep.
Nanny would often tell me that there would come a day that I would get too busy and not want to spend so much time with a little old lady like her. As a child I would insist that she was wrong. It was inconceivable to me that the day would come when our sleepovers would end. But of course she was right, well...partly right. I always wanted to spend time with that little old lady, but the day did eventually come when I was just too busy to spend my weekends with her as I would have liked to. I went off to university out of town, and then law school, and eventually moved to the big city and got married.
And Nanny moved on too. Physically, from her apartment to one in a seniors building and eventually to a room in a nursing home. And, as she aged and grew sicker, she could no longer entertain overnight company and eventually all day company became too much too, and our visits grew shorter and shorter.
As her own consolation for the fact that she could no longer hold me on her lap and tell me tales, as I reached my 20's, Nanny started to often say that she hoped and prayed that she would live long enough to see my first born and be healthy enough to enjoy her. "Oooh" she'd say, "I hope I get to hold another little pudge like you."
I can vividly recall speaking with my Nanny last February and telling her I was pregnant with Isla. I could hear the joy in her voice through the telephone. Nanny's health was failing at the time, and I can remember saying to her, "you just need to hang on until October Nanny, just until October". "I can do that" she said, "I have to do that, I can't miss holding that little pudge". In the spring, I visited with her and proudly showed her my belly and told her we were having a girl. It brought me such joy to know that while I had grown up and could no longer spend so much time with my Nanny, and certainly could no longer crawl up onto her lap, I could make her dreams of holding my daughter come true.
I know my Nanny's heart broke for me the day Isla died, and my heart broke for my Nanny too.
In the fall, as my Nanny's health worsened, I sat with her and showed her pictures of my dead baby. "Aww, look at her" she said, "look at her". I announced to my Nanny that Tim and I were going to try again. Naively expecting that we would fall pregnant in the first month or two, I said to her, "You just need you to hang on until September Nanny, just until this time next year" Rather than saying, "I can do that", Nanny said, "well...I'll try." Nanny was in pain then. More pain then any of us realized. She was suffering from colon cancer and she had fallen in the shower and broken a vertebrae in her back. The thought of Nanny holding my child had become my consolation.
This past Sunday Tim and I went to visit Nanny for the last time. Like always, she was dressed with her make-up and jewelry on, but her voice was laboured and I knew she was not well. As we said goodbye, she apologized to me for not being able to be there to hold our baby. "We're trying Nanny, we're working on it for you" I said. Nanny said, "I'm trying too sweetheart." But I could see her physical pain in her face, so as I kissed her goodbye I told her, "I'll be okay if you need to go now Nanny, just as long as you promise to take care of Isla for me". She nodded and kissed my cheek.
Nanny died on Tuesday morning. The end came much faster than any of us expected it to. We knew it was near, but not so imminent. She is no longer in pain, and for that I am grateful.
This loss is difficult to bear. The future without Nanny is difficult to imagine. I was not ready to say goodbye. I don't think I could ever be. My feelings of longing for Nanny are almost as profound as those for Isla.
And yet, this death is also very different for me. Perhaps it is because it has come in the natural order; Nanny's life was a life well lived. Or, perhaps it is because I know there has been an end to her suffering; platitudes like "at least she is no longer in pain" have actually provided me with some comfort. I think more than anything though, it is my memories of Nanny that bring me solace.
Yes, I know who I am missing now, and trust me, I couldn't be missing her more. But I must say, knowing who I am missing, makes missing her much easier. I know nothing of my daughter other than the feel of her kicks and the sound of her heartbeat, and that makes missing her so much more difficult. No, the death of a baby before birth is no easier than the death of living relative. No, no. Not at all.
As I went through Nanny's photos this week, I found a letter written just to me. It was written over 12 years ago as I was headed off to university. Inside Nanny wrote that she didn't know what to give to me, so she wanted to give me a "packet of memories" and she recorded some of her favourites of our time together. What a valuable gift to be given.
I love you Nanny. Hold tight to that little pudge.
4 weeks ago